As Vice-Chancellor of UWE I would like to share the following statement with you. It clarifies my views on the announced higher education funding cuts, the proposed increase in the graduate contribution, the student protests and the restructuring at UWE.
1. Fundamentally I believe that higher education should be fully supported by adequate funding through taxation and provided for by the public purse. I believe that all subject disciplines should be equally supported and valued. I am disappointed and saddened that, despite significant negotiations and lobbying over many months, it has not been possible to convince the government to continue to support higher education in the same way.
2. However, I do understand the extremely difficult financial climate we as a country find ourselves in. This has required the government to prioritise and cut aspects of public spending. I accept that higher education cannot be immune from measures to reduce the deficit. I support the Government’s prioritisation and ‘relative protection’ of health, social care, state schools, police and other critical public services that impact directly on all parts of society. Morally I cannot argue for higher education to be prioritised above these areas, particularly given that unlike other public services universities can generate income from other sources.
3. The alternative to the increase in the graduate contribution, currently being considered by the Government, is a heavy reduction in the number of people going to university. If this option is pursued it would mean the return to an elite system, it would damage widening participation, and reduce the capacity of higher education to transform lives. I have therefore reluctantly accepted that, in the absence of any real alternative, the increase in the graduate contribution is the only viable option.
4. In doing so I fully support the University Alliance’s position and the Universities UK Board statement that agree with the Government’s proposals for an increase in the graduate contribution as the best available option, given the circumstances.¹
5. Like all universities, UWE is facing, and will continue to face significant funding cuts. The CSR removes over 80% (over £50 million) of our core public funding by 2014/15. Compensating for some of these cuts through an increase in the graduate contribution is the only viable option available to us at this time. If the increase is not supported, we will be unable to sustain the University in its current form and would not be able to invest in enhancement to our learning and working environment. We would look very different in our size, shape and the subject areas we offer.
6. In order to reduce the impact of the cuts we have been working very hard to control and reduce our operating and management costs. Through a series of reviews we are working to build more efficient systems and processes so as to release more resource to support the student experience and the quality of our academic programmes.
7. I would like to be very clear that we are not reducing contact time or our academic staff engaged in teaching and learning. The restructuring has focused on reducing management and administrative costs to allow increased investment to support the student experience. In particular,investment to increase contact time and access to tutors across all courses. There is NO plan to undertake a cross-University restructuring of teaching resources at senior lecturer (grade H) or lecturer (grade G) level.
8. In the New Year, Faculty Executives will start to look at their staffing and physical resource requirements based on the actual and expected student numbers for programmes currently being offered or developed for the 2011-2012 year. They will then develop the academic staffing requirements for the 2011-2012 year, using all available management information, including the current version of the academic work load model. It is likely that this may highlight the need to rebalance staffing levels to ensure we support student learning and pastoral needs.
9. As Vice-Chancellor I am accountable to the Board of Governors and through them to the University. I am also accountable to the Higher Education Funding Council and ultimately the Public Accounts Committee. I have to act to protect the interests of the University. It is my responsibility with the Board to manage the immediate and the long-term financial and academic sustainability of UWE; in particular the experience and opportunities we provide for our students, partners and society. UWE is a very strong University which transforms lives and adds significant value to both individuals and society. We should be proud of what we do and we should celebrate the positive difference we make and will continue to make in the future. Our reputation and standing enhances the prospects of our staff and students through the value of our degrees and our research. We must do all we can to continue to build and protect this.
10. As we move forward, I continue to support the leadership of the National Union of Students, the UWE Students’ Union and students who engage in peaceful demonstration and debate. I, along with colleagues and the Board of Governors, have engaged in the debate and fully understand and respect the legitimate concerns raised by current and future students. I will continue to work with the Students’ Union to support the needs of students. In doing so I hope that the position of the leadership and management of the University is also understood and respected during this period of unprecedented change and challenge. We remain committed to enhancing the student experience by continuing to improve the quality of our programmes, infrastructure, estate and front line staff resource.
11. Finally, I do not support any acts of bullying, intimidation, obstruction, frustration or acts that prevent the University, staff or students from conducting their normal legitimate business. I was disappointed that last week a handful of protesters engaged in bullying and intimidation of female members of staff. They then frustrated and disrupted normal university business at an event that was benefiting our past and present students, staff and employers from across the region. Such behaviour, I am sure you will agree, is unacceptable, inappropriate and is not consistent with the values, ethos, policies and codes of conduct at UWE, and as such has no place here.
12. I do however fully support debate, discussion and reasoned argument and believe that this is essential to any civilised culture and academic institution.
I hope that by working together we can develop as a world-class University, offering excellent learning and teaching, research and engagement. We are an inclusive University that reaches out to communities and we make a significant difference to individuals and society. We should be proud, confident and ambitious for the future and we should work to allow everyone to reach their full potential. We can only do that if we are prepared to adapt, prioritise, invest and change.As Vice-Chancellor I am certainly very proud of UWE. I hope that you are equally proud of your University, the degree you will earn and the reputation you will help shape and support.